Talking about Summer – Staycations & Caravans

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Some things haven’t changed this summer: it’s August, it’s 35 degrees and my office at home has no air conditioning. However, one thing is different: it’s really quiet. We live very close to Frankfurt airport, one of the biggest airports in the world. Normally, there would be a constant stream of planes from 5am to 11pm but at the moment it’s strangely peaceful. Due to Corona, like most of the people I’ve spoken to recently, I won’t be flying anywhere this summer either. This has brought up some interesting conversations about holidays, summer and also some confusion regarding summer English vocabulary. So, here’s some words that are often mixed up.

Holiday, Vacation or Staycation

tropical summer vacation

This is a pretty simple one. To go on holiday is generally British English. We go on holiday in the summer whereas the Americans go on vacation. The big word of summer 2020 however is the staycation. We’re having a staycation this year. Due to the ongoing Corona crisis, a lot of people are choosing not to travel this summer and rather stay at home. A staycation (a combination of the words stay and vacation) can be a holiday you spend at home, maybe in your garden or taking day trips to nearby places. The British also use staycation for a holiday in Britain i.e. not travelling abroad.

Camper, Caravan or RV

This one can be quite confusing if you’re new to the world of “mobile accommodation”. In the past, the Germans often chuckled at the Dutch and their love of caravans but this year, there’s been a boom in all things camping. So, a camper or camper van usually refers to something like the classic VW style van which you drive and can also sleep in. They often have a roof that expands upwards to add more space. A caravan is something you attach to the back of your car and pull (sometimes called a trailer in American English). An RV (recreational vehicle) is a larger vehicle that you drive but also sleep in, sometimes also called a motorhome or a Winnebago (a well-known US brand of motorhome).

Sun Cream, Screen or Lotion

Example of sun cream, sun lotion, sunscreen, sunblock

Sun cream and lotion are pretty general and cover any kind of liquid you rub into your skin to protect yourself from the sun or perhaps help the tanning process. Sunscreen or sunblock are often used for cream/sprays that provide stronger protection from the sun i.e. small children should wear sunblock.

Windbreak, Windbreaker or Strandkorb

If you go to the beach in England, a windbreak is an essential item. It’s basically a sturdy piece of fabric with poles that can be hammered into the sand to provide shelter from the wind (which there’s generally plenty of on a British beach holiday). A windbreaker on the other hand is a light jacket (perhaps also waterproof) that protects you from the wind. The Strandkorb (literally beach basket) is an ingenious German invention. Basically, it’s a wooden seat with extendable footrests, small folding tables and a large hood to provide shade and protection from the wind. They can be rented for a day or a whole week and can be seen all over the beaches of northern Germany. Why these haven’t made it in England yet, I do not know.

Scoop or Soft Serve

And of course, summer wouldn’t be summer without ice cream. While the Germans eat balls of ice cream, the English-speaking world eat scoops. The scoops can be served in a cup or tub or in a cone or waffle cone. Alternatively, ice cream that is served from a machine is called soft ice cream, soft serve or Mr Whippy (a UK brand of this type of ice cream).

Do you agree with the words above? Maybe you know some different expressions. As always, feel free to comment below. And whether you’re having a staycation a vaction or a holiday, stay safe and enjoy!

Corona Talk (English Version and Quiz)

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I posted the German version of this article a couple of weeks ago and now here’s the English version. Don’t forget to do the quiz at the end!

Corona virus
Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

Corona has not just changed life as we know it, it’s also changing our language. Something that’s not only happening to the English language, I’ve noticed changes here in Germany too. A recent conversation with Birgit Kasimirski, a journalist, translator and language nerd like me, led us to collaborate on an article together about this topic and create a short quiz to “Test your Corona Language”.

I’ve lived in Germany for more than 20 years, speak good German and I’m surrounded by the language every day. You’d think there wouldn’t be many everyday words I hadn’t come across by now, right? Wrong. This became obvious recently at the start of the Corona pandemic. Suddenly, the German news was full of talk about Auflagen. Now, to break the word up into two parts auf = on and Lagen = a kind of layer. The only Auflagen I knew about before was related to a rather over-priced bit of mattress that completes our rather over-priced box spring/divan bed, known in the English-speaking world as a topper. A “layer on“, so to speak. So, what on earth were the Germans suddenly layering on? Of course, something Germans love almost as much as their wurst: rules and regulations! Now, having lived in Germany for 20 years means I’ve come across plenty of strange German Regeln (rules) – like, not being able to do housework between 1 and 3pm (I hear cheers from housewives across the land) or Richtlinien (Regulations) – like restricting the amount of gravel you are allowed to use in your garden (?!!), so why had I never heard of Auflagen in this context before?

Meet Birgit. Birgit is German and, like me, a language nerd. She’s a trainer, journalist and translator and particularly fascinated by the English language. We, therefore, got into a conversation about the Auflagen recently and she also admitted she hadn’t really thought about it much before, apart from the Auflagen you can put on garden furniture (furniture toppers!). It’s not a new word as such, just somehow the chosen German word for rules during Corona.

In true language-nerd style, she started researching how the Brits were “talking” during Corona times in comparison to the Germans and found out there is a stark difference. In Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world, a lot of Corona talk was made up of newly-created words like Covidiot (a person not following the Corona Auflagen) or Quarantini (quarantine cocktail). She was also amused, yet not surprised (after spending time living in the UK) that the Brits were also trying to handle the situation with humour and using rhyming slang e.g.  Pete’s got the Miley Cyrus (virus). As I explained to her, this is often the way we Brits try to deal with tough situations. Nobody is trying to make light of the horrific ordeal the UK has been through with Corona, they’re simply trying to find a survival tactic to survive the depressing daily news.

In Germany, things are a bit different.  In a recent survey published in a leading German newspaper, Germans were asked to rate on a scale of 0 – 10 (yes, German surveys start at 0 not 1, for things so bad they’re not even worth a 1!) how satisfied they were with the crisis management of their federal state and the government in general since the outbreak of Corona. The average response was 6 – 7.2 out of 10. That’s pretty high and I would also put myself around the 7 mark. Despite discrepancies between the federal states and the odd bickering here and there, the German response to the crisis has been like their language; direct and full of guidelines. Which of course has given them the chance to do something else they love to do; create gigantic compound nouns! When things get serious, the Germans get all “compound nouny”. Fantastic words like Ausgangsbeschränkungen (21 letters, fancy word for lockdown) or even better, Abstandsvorschriftenverweigerung (32 letters, basically means you’re a Covidiot and don’t social distance). So, they’ve slapped some nouns together and taken on some Anglicisms like homeschooling and working remotely but there has been much less play on words.

In addition to language differences, it is also interesting to see how our contrasting national habits and characteristics also shine through when dealing with a crisis. A recent article from the UK, published around the time hairdressers were due to reopen, talked at some length about the difficulties of avoiding small talk while having your hair cut. Something we Brits seem to find rather difficult. The Germans on the other hand (who are generally not keen on small talk at all and simply don’t see the point of it) have other concerns. After a large outbreak of Covid-19 at a meat production facility, a TV report discussed at great length whether it was now possible to catch the virus by eating a Mettbrötchen. Oh goodness, the Mettbrötchen. The strange German snack that sits in the window of a sandwich shop while foreigners stop and stare, amazed (appalled) at the sheer sight of it. Half a white bread roll, smeared with raw (yes, raw) pork mince and topped with chopped raw onion. And if you think that’s strange, trying googling the Mettigel. Same general ingredients but crudely shaped into the form of a hedgehog to be served at parties! Luckily, no hedgehogs are harmed in the process.

But while the Brits are surviving with humour and squirming in the hairdresser’s chair and the Germans are beating their own record at creating long words and pondering whether to munch on a Mettbrötchen, we all, of course, do have something in common: we very much hope the cases of the Miley Cyrus go down very soon, the Abstandsvorschriftenverweigerers aka Covidiots get a grip and show some respect for the rest of society and finally, we can remove some of these Auflagen and return to some kind of normality.

So how good is your “Corona Talk”? Take the quiz:

1. What is a Coronial?

a. A person who has been infected with the Corona virus

b. A favourite item bought during lockdown

c. A baby that was conceived during lockdown

d. A person who started a new job during lockdown and started their new job working from home

2. Germans are calling the extra weight gained during lockdown Coronaspeck / Corona bacon. Which of these is a common US expression for the same thing?

a. Corona fat

b. Corona belly

c. Covid 19 (pounds)

d. Coronobese

3. Which of the following expressions is used for ending a relationship during a Zoom session?

a. Zoomout

b. Zoomend

c. Zoom and Go

d. Zumping

4. At the beginning of the crisis, people started hoarding/stockpiling toilet rolls. The Germans and the Dutch use an animal expression for this. What is it?

a. Squirelling

b. Hamstering

c. Hedgehogging

d. Polar bearing

5. What is the R number?

a. The number of fatalities due to Covid-19

b. The effective reproduction number

c. The Rona number

d. The repeat infection number

6. In order to save jobs in the UK, the government launched a support package allowing employers to send their staff into paid holiday where the government supported up to 80% of their salaries. The expression used for this in the UK is “to furlough”. This is not a new word but what was it originally used to describe?

a. Military or missionary workers home on leave

b. Hiring temporary farming workers

c. Another expression for being made redundant

d. Gardening Leave

7. When every day in lockdown starts to feel the same and you forget what day it is, you can say it’s:

a. Mixonday

b. Confuseday

c. Blendesday

d. Blursday

8. In order to reduce loneliness for people in single households, the British government announced single households could form a group with another household where social distancing was no longer necessary. What is the name of this group?

a. Bubble

b. Pod

c. Corona group

d. Gang


  1. c
  2. c
  3. d
  4. b
  5. b
  6. a
  7. d
  8. a

Corona Talk

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Corona has not just changed life as we know it, it’s also changing our language. Something that’s not only happening to the English language, I’ve noticed changes here in Germany too. A recent conversation with Birgit Kasimirski, a journalist, translator and language nerd like me, led us to collaborate on an article together about this topic and create a short quiz to “Test your Corona English“. The current version is only available in German but I will be translating it and posting an English version very soon.


Article by Rebecca Deacon and Birgit Kasimirski

Fakt ist: Corona verändert wie wir Sprache verwenden
Nicht sicher ist: sind wir uns dessen bewusst? Ein Dialog aus britischer und deutscher Perspektive. 

Corona hat uns vor Augen geführt, wie schnell sich Dinge schlagartig radikal ändern. Anders als die Schließungen von Schulen und Landesgrenzen von einem Tag auf den anderen, bemerken wir aber eher verzögert, wie sehr sich auch unsere Sprache in den letzten Monaten verändert oder eher – an die Umstände – angepasst hat.

Der Blick der anderen

Wie verändert sich unsere Sprache und bemerken wir das innerhalb unserer eigenen Muttersprache noch? Fällt das jemandem „von außen“, also einem Nicht-Muttersprachler vielleicht sogar eher auf? Das ist mein Eindruck nachdem Rebecca Deacon, Engländerin, die seit 20 Jahren in Deutschland als Lehrerin und Übersetzerin lebt, mir davon berichtete: Sie stolperte jüngst über das Wort Auflagen, dieses war ihr bisher nicht untergekommen, wogegen ich bei den Auflagen – also dem Wort – keinen besonderen Gedanken verschwendet hatte, mal abgesehen davon, dass ich Auflagen eher im Zusammenhang mit unseren Gartenmöbeln benutze.

Was mich beim Sprachenlernen schon immer fasziniert hat, ist die Art Weise, wie wir Vokabular lernen, erklärt Rebecca. Für mich als jemand, die in Deutschland lebt und ständig von der Sprache umgeben ist, hatte ich angenommen, dass ich ganz automatisch alle nötigen Wörter der Sprache in mich aufnehme. Und dennoch gibt es nach 20 Jahren noch “neue” Wörter für meinen aktiven Wortschatz, in diesem Fall eben das Wort Auflagen. Ich verstand das Wort natürlich im Kontext und konnte mir vorstellen, was damit gemeint war, aber ich hatte es bisher nie zuvor aktiv benutzt und hätte keinen Unterschied zwischen Auflagen, Richtlinien oder Regeln festmachen können. Und plötzlich taucht das Wort überall auf und ich wundere mich, wie ich in einem Land, das – seien wir mal ehrlich – ein gutes Maß an Regeln und Vorschriften sehr schätzt – diesem Wort vorher niemals über den Weg laufen konnte. Habe ich es einfach nur nie gesehen oder ignoriert und werde jetzt so sehr konfrontiert mit dem Wort, dass ich es nicht länger ignorieren kann?

Angeregt durch Rebeccas Auflagen-Erfahrung habe ich mich in der englischen Sprache auf die Suche nach neuen, bisher für mich unbekannten Wörter und Ausdrücken gemacht und dabei herausgefunden: die Engländer sind erfinderisch. Sie verwenden Abkürzungen, Zusammenführungen von Wörtern und Rhyming Slang.

 The British way

Die reimende Umgangssprache oder der Rhyming Slang, erzählt Rebecca, ist eine verbreitete Art der Briten, neue Wörter zu erfinden. Beispielsweise: Tom & Dick = sick und zurzeit Miley Cyrus = virus. Entsprechende Sätze könnten lauten: Anne isn`t coming today, she`s Tom & Dick. Oder Have you heard – Peter got the Miley Cyrus. Ein anderer verbreiteter Trend besteht darin, Wörter zu verkürzen, also sagen wir someone has got „the rona“ oder wir benutzen sanny für sanitizer und oder BCV für before Corona virus. Oder Wörter werden zusammengezogen, also wird aus quarantine und martini the quarantini.

Humor und Corona? Geht das?

Die Tatsache, dass mir in der deutschen Sprache, kein einziges neues Wort durch Abkürzung, Zusammenführung oder Reimen eingefallen ist und eine Bemerkung eines guten Freundes zu der Handhabung der Engländer „Über das Thema macht man sich nicht lustig!“ lässt in mir die Überzeugung wachsen, dass unsere Art zu sprechen auch unsere Mentalität widerspiegelt. Aber es bringt mir eher zum Sprichwort: Not Macht erfinderisch – das Sprichwort bezieht sich in seinem Ursprung darauf, Dinge zu überleben, die das leben, die Umstände einfacher oder besser machen. Bezogen auf Sprache: ist es so, dass wenn wir neue Wörter erfinden, das auch die Umstände besser macht oder vereinfacht?

Das ist in Großbritannien oft der Fall, berichtet Rebecca. Neue Wörter wie quarantini oder covidiot (jemand, der sich nicht an die Pandemie-Auflagen hält) zu erfinden, ist ein gutes Beispiel dafür, wie Briten Humor benutzen, um mit schwierigen Situationen umzugehen. Es ist überhaupt nicht so, dass wir nicht verstehen, wie ernst die Lage ist. Jeder von uns weiß, wie schlimm Großbritannien getroffen wurde und im tiefsten Inneren macht uns das eine gehörige Portion Angst. Aber der Humor hilft uns dabei, mutiges dreinzuschauen und ganz nebenbei bringt es die Menschen zusammen.

In der deutschen Sprache jedenfalls fallen mir keine wirklich erfundenen Wörter ein, vielmehr haben wir ein paar Anglizismen mehr integriert: Homeoffice, Lockdown, Houseparty, Social Distancing, Homeschooling – alles Begriffe, die sich durch Heim-Arbeitsplatz, Sperrmodus, Hausfeier, soziale Distanzierung und Unterricht zuhause nicht 100 -prozentig ausdrücken lassen würden. Diesen wichtigen Hinweis möchte ich an dieser Stelle, geben: Kein Engländer macht home office (Home Office = Innenministerium), they rather work from home! Das führt uns zum nächsten Thema: der Substantivierung.

Das Ding, die Sache, der Sachverhalt

Der Hang zur Substantivierung zeigt sich unter Corona besonders deutlich: Substantive klingen automatisch ernsthafter, seriöser. Würden wir Verben verwenden, würde die Thematik – in unseren Augen – vielleicht nicht schwer genug wiegen. Ausgangsbeschränkungen, Abstandsregelungen, all das klingt in dieser Situation für uns angemessen. Und – wie auch Rebecca gelernt hat – funktioniert es sehr gut, mehrere Substantive aneinander zu hängen: Ausstiegsstrategie, Öffnungsdiskussionsorgien, Abstandsvorschriftenverweigerung, Infektionsgeschehensverlauf.

hands with latex gloves holding a globe with a face mask

Ooooh ja, sagt Rebecca, die Deutschen lieben ihre Substantive und erst die zusammengesetzten! Für jemanden, der fremd im Land ist und nicht-Muttersprachler ist das ein guter Tipp – falls man ein deutsches Wort nicht kennt – einfach ein paar Substantive zusammenzupacken, das funktioniert oft gut. Sie kennen das Wort für Dentist nicht? Versuchen Sie Zahn und Arzt in einem Wort und voilá: Zahnarzt! Das funktioniert bei vielen anderen ähnlich:, Frauenarzt, Kinderarzt, Hautarzt. Ganz schön praktisch! Wir Briten lieben dagegen Verben. Wir “arbeiten von zuhause” (work from home, WFH), nicht im home office (warum sollte ich, ich bin nicht der Innenminister!), wir distanzieren uns, we are social distancing und halten keinen Abstand und isolieren uns selbst, self-isolating, finden uns nicht in Selbstisolation wieder. Ich stimme zu, dass Substantive die Dinge irgendwie offizieller und sachlicher erscheinen lassen und Verben den Aussagen einen persönlicheren Ton verleihen.

Nationale Eigenheiten

Und obwohl jede von uns beiden einen eigenen Weg hat, mit dieser neuen Situation umzugehen, finde ich es ziemlich tröstlich und amüsant, wie die kleine alltägliche Sorgen der Menschen in jedem Land sich auf unterschiedliche Weise zeigen und dadurch die ganz eigenen nationalen Gepflogenheiten nochmal zum Vorschein kommen. So behandelte vor Kurzem ein Artikel in einer britischen Zeitung ausgiebig die Probleme, die durch den Gang zum Friseur entstehen können. Die Regierung hat geraten, dort keinen Smalltalk zu halten. Bitte, was? Für uns Briten ist Smalltalk Bestandteil unserer DNA. Wie bitteschön sollen wir ein Smalltalk-Verbot hinbekommen? Am gleichen Tag sah ich einen Bericht im deutschen Nachrichtensender über den aktuellen Skandal in einer Fleischfabrik, wo der Virus ausgebrochen ist. Ein ziemlich langer Teil des Berichts war dem Mettbrötchen gewidmet und der Frage, ob es möglich sei, sich den Virus über den Verzehr von Mett einzufangen. Als Britin gibt es für mich nichts Seltsameres als Mettbrötchen. Obwohl Mettigel!

Die Sache mit der Fleischfabrik hat uns alle erneut auf den Boden der Tatsachen zurückgeholt. Die Ferien beginnen und alle hoffen (hey, ein Verb!) darauf, dass nach all den Auflagen und einer langen Zeit der Abstinenz durch Corona und des damit einhergehenden Shutdown, inklusive aller möglichen Ausgangsbeschränkungen im öffentlichen Leben genauso wie in den Bereichen Arbeit, Schule und Freizeit, irgendwann am Ende doch Verbesserung der Situation, ein Ausweg und die Rückkehr zum Alltag inklusive aller Aufhebungen von Kontaktsperren etc. steht (und noch ein Verb!). Hätte das ohne die Substantive mit Reimen und Abkürzungen genauso geklungen? Vermutlich nicht.


Sollte dieser Text dazu beigetragen haben, Dir bewusst zu machen, wie sich Corona seit geraumer Zeit auf unseren Sprachgebrauch auswirkt, hat das – wie so wenig in letzter Zeit – keinerlei Auswirkungen! Du musst keinen Abstand nehmen und nicht in Quarantäne, es verändert möglicherweise nur Dein Bewusstsein.

Test your Corona Englisch – wie fit bist Du?

1. Was ist ein “Coronial”?

a. Jemand, der sich mit dem Cornoa-Virus angesteckt hat

b. Ein Lieblingsartikel, den Sie während der Lockdown gekauft haben

c. Ein Baby, das während des Lockdown gezeugt wurde

d. Eine Person, die einen neuen Job angefangen hat, während sie im Home Office arbeitet

2. Was ist der englische Ausdruck für “Coronaspeck”?

a. Corona fat

b. Corona bacon

c. Covid 19 (pounds)

d. Coronobese

3. Wie lautet der englische Ausdruck, wenn Sie während eines Zoom-Meetings eine Beziehung beenden?

a. Zoomout

b. Zoomend

c. Zoom and Go

d. Zumping

4. Welcher Ausdruck kann nicht verwendet werden, um Hamsterkäufe zu beschreiben?

a. Stockpiling

b. Hoarding

c. Squirrel shopping

d. Panic buying

5. Welcher dieser Grüße wird während der Corona-Zeit empfohlen?

a. A hug

b. An elbow bump

c. A handshake

d. A head bump

6. Um Arbeitsplätze in Großbritannien zu erhalten, kündigte die Regierung ein Unterstützungsprogramm an, das es den Unternehmen erlaubt, Arbeitnehmer vorübergehend in bezahlten Urlaub zu schicken, während die Regierung 80 Prozent ihres Gehalts zahlt. Wie lautet der korrekte Begriff für diese neue Unterstützung?

a. Furlough

b. Short Work

c. Paid Leave

d. Gardening Leave

7. Der Tag, an dem Sie gerade leben, aber keine Ahnung haben, welcher Tag es tatsächlich ist, weil sich jeder Tag während des Lockdown gleich anfühlt?

a. Mixonday

b. Confuseday

c. Blendesday

d. Blursday

8. Um die Einsamkeit zu verringern und Menschen, die allein leben, zu unterstützen, hat die britische Regierung es kürzlich Menschen, die allein leben, erlaubt, mit einem anderen Haushalt eine Gruppe zu bilden, ohne dass eine soziale Distanzierung erforderlich ist. Wie ist der Name dieser Gruppe?

a. Bubble

b. Pod

c. Corona group

d. Gang


  1. c
  2. c, Vergessen Sie nicht, dass das Vereinigte Königreich, obwohl es offiziell das metrische System hat, immer noch dazu neigt, zur Beschreibung des Gewichts eher Pfund und “stones” als Kilo zu verwenden. Die USA benutzen ebenfalls Pfunde.
  3. d, Eine Kombination aus Zoom und to dump, dem umgangssprachlichen Ausdruck wenn man eine Beziehung beendet.
  4. c, Obwohl Eichhörnchen (Squirrels) gerne Nahrung sammeln und lagern, ist dies kein richtiger Ausdruck für Hamsterkäufe. Alle anderen Optionen können verwendet werden.
  5. b, Der Ellbogenstoß (elbow bump) war einer der ersten offiziellen Vorschläge zur Begrüßung von Menschen während der Pandemie. Eine Umarmung (hug) oder ein Händedruck (handshake) sollten vermieden werden, und natürlich wäre ein Kopfstoß (head bump) ziemlich schmerzhaft.
  6. a, Furlough kommt von dem niederländischen Wort Verlof und wurde in der Vergangenheit verwendet, um die vorübergehende Beurlaubung von Mitgliedern des Militärs zu beschreiben. Die Regierung hat das Wort wiederbelebt, um das neue System zu beschreiben, das in Großbritannien während der Pandemie eingeführt wurde. Den Begriff Short Work gibt es nicht, aber Short-time Work mittlerweile doch, um das deutsche System von Kurzarbeit zu beschreiben. Gardening Leave beschreibt, wenn ein Arbeitnehmer aus einem Unternehmen entlassen wird und zu Hause bleiben kann, sein Gehalt aber bis zum Vertragsende in voller Höhe ausgezahlt wird. Paid Leave beschreibt einfach bezahlte Urlaubstage.
  7. d
  8. a

Learning Vocabulary:10 Tips

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So, it’s been a while since my last post. Not sure about you, but this hot weather has put me in lazy summer mode and I’m finding it hard to put much effort into anything at the moment. One thing I have been doing (while lazing around on the balcony) is learning/reviewing a bit of vocabulary.

When it comes to making progress in a language, there really is no getting away from learning vocabulary. But it can often feel intimidating. Like this “to do” that you can never tick off the list. Like a marathon you can never finish. Or a marathon where you get to the end and then find out you’re actually doing an ultra-marathon and there’s another gazillion kilometres to go! Where does it end??

As a result, people are always on the lookout for a quick fix. My clients often ask me “What’s the best way to learn vocabulary?” and my answer is always the same. Despite what a lot of books and people might tell you, there is no best way. If there was and it was proven, wouldn’t we all be doing it and speaking six million languages like C3PO?

c3po languages

Maybe it’s a strange comparison but think about dieting for a minute (bear with me here!). How many times do you hear that one specific diet is THE best way to lose weight. But if that were really true, wouldn’t all overweight people do it, lose weight and that would be the end of it? The point is, like dieting, learning vocabulary is a personal thing. While eating grapefruit all day brings great results for one person it might make you sick to your stomach. Just because it works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for  you. Try different methods and tailor your own system which is both manageable and most importantly, sustainable.

So, I’m happy to share my own top 10 tips with you. Feel free to adopt, ignore, mix and match or add sugar to any of them. And remember, results may vary!

1. When you come across a new word, use your intuition and look at the context. I was recently in a situation where I introduced my dog Polo to a group of Germans. They asked me if he knew any tricks. His tricks are limited (although he does a great one where he poops in the middle of a zebra crossing and holds up a huge line of traffic!) but he does know the basics. Polo only speaks English so I told him to “Sit” and then said “Paw” to which he very politely lifted his furry paw in the hope of getting a treat.


One of the Germans then asked me “What does paw mean? I don’t know that word”. Really?? You just watched him lift it! Intuition and context. Don’t expect a language to be fed to you on a spoon. Use your head and make an educated guess.

2. Use as many senses as possible. Learning is a multi-sensory process. Using multiple senses creates more cognitive connections and improves the retrieval of what you have learnt. For example, if you are using an app to learn vocabulary, use headphones and listen to the word as well as reading/writing it. If you are in a situation where you only hear the word, write the word down so you can see it or look it up in Google. Even better, click on Google Images and get a picture to match your new word.

3. Make sure it’s relevant. We talked about this in my last post about homework. It’s always hard to learn things if they are not relevant or useful. One of the problems of learning from a textbook or even an app is that the words you learn are dictated to you by the person who created it. And they often work through topics e.g. food, family, jobs. While some of that vocabulary is useful, it’s not really necessary at an early stage to learn the names of 30 different professions or exotic fruits that you might never need. Creating your own flashcards (for example on Quizlet) means you only learn what you really need/want and is relevant to you.

ask more questions

4. Never be ashamed to ask. You know how it is. You’re sitting in your class and someone uses a word and everyone seems to know it (or pretends they do) but you haven’t got a clue and you’re too ashamed to ask. Get over it!If you can’t figure out the word from context, ask a native. I’ve been learning German for years and I still do this from time to time. Most people are more than happy to tell you (lecture) you on its meaning and uses. Why be ashamed? Kids ask questions all the time because they want to learn new things. Asking (non-“paw”-related questions) and wanting to learn is not a sign of being stupid, it’s a sign of intelligence.

5. Mix and match. Always using the same method to learn can quickly get boring. Tired of Duolingo, try watching some YouTube lessons. Bored of your flashcards, try the post-it method. I use Duolingo for my Spanish but I use old school flashcards and textbooks for my Japanese. As I said before, it’s a bit like dieting. Eat the same slimline milkshake every day and you’ll lose weight but you’ll also quickly lose interest. Variety is a good way to keep things sustainable.

6. Look out for your new words. While you can’t beat active learning i.e. creating flashcards, writing sentences, using words in conversation or emails etc., don’t underestimate the importance of passive learning. With this I mean reading something or watching/listening practice. A lot of language learners start by sitting with a dictionary while watching a film or reading a book. I tried it too. And it didn’t last long. There is nothing more boring or frustrating than looking up every other word. It takes forever and kills all the fun. But that doesn’t mean passive activities are not useful. The key is to accept you won’t understand everything but if you keep your eyes and ears open long enough, your new-found vocabulary will start popping up all over the place. You’ll see/hear it in context which strengthens your understanding of a word. No major work involved, just a bit of attention.

7. Use it or lose it. This one is hard if you don’t live abroad or you don’t have many opportunities to use your target language. But to transfer a word to your active vocabulary range, you need to use it as soon as possible and numerous times. Studies have shown that simply speaking a word out loud to another person helps us learn a word more effectively. I like this method and often have “phrase of the week” that I inflict on my husband. A while ago I learnt the German phrase “Man munkelt / rumour has it”.

         Husband: What’s for dinner tonight? Me: Man munkelt we’re having pizza.

         Husband: What time will you be home tonight?  Me: Man munkelt about seven.

         Husband: Can we please give it a rest with the Man munkelt!!

Sounds silly but “Man munkelt” is now firmly fixed in my active vocabulary.

8. Use mnemonics. Use what? Read any book on memory skills and you’ll soon come across mnemonics. Basically they are learning techniques that assist learning, memory and retrieval skills. Which is kind of ironic because a lot of people don’t know the word mnemonic and have a hard time remembering it! The Germans call them “Eselsbrücken / donkey bridges”. A bit random but memorable at least. So, how do you create a “donkey bridge”? For example, people often remember words better when they are linked to an image. If you are creating your own flashcards i.e. on Quizlet, there are tons of images you can copy and paste from Google images.

Learning vocabulary
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Another mnemonic method is to try and break a word down into sections. For example, I remember the German word “erinnern” (to remember)by switching the first two letters (er-re) and thinking that the  second part of the word sounds like “inner”, so to keep something “inside”. People have all kinds of strange mnemonics for words. For example, I remember the Japanese word Samui (cold weather) by thinking it sounds a bit like Samoa where it’s NOT cold at all. My sort of twisted logic but it works for me! Mnemonics are very personal, so you really need to make your own to suit your own logic.

9. Review. There’s no getting away from this one. You have to review your new words. There is no magic pill. Some ways of reviewing are proven to be more effective than others, like SRS (spaced repetition system), but whatever method you choose, there is no getting away from it. Try to find a way that is fun and fits into your schedule. But quit the moaning, accept it and do it.

10. Have some fun. It doesn’t all have to be painful. The more fun you have, the quicker you will learn. Watch series, films and YouTube videos. Listen to podcasts. Listen to music in your target language and try to translate the lyrics. Learn a song in your target language, go to a karaoke night and sing it! (my current goal in Japanese). Read a blog on a topic you love. Think of your favourite book and find a version in the target language. Ther are plenty of ways to keep learning fun.

So, that’s my list. Maybe you have some other tips you would like to share? As always, feel free to comment below. To follow my blog, just add your email address to the box on the right. Until next time, happy learning!